If one eliminates the side trips and distractions, one then has a straight path to the major places on wants to go in life.  Keep the distractions and that will be what your life is:  an erratic, zig-zag existence, living on the surface of things, and never being fulfilled in life.


In The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, has a diagram of concentric circles where the power is much greater in the center because it is something you can affect directly, plus what you affect has a greater effect on your life.


Basically, if I go further out and march in protests that will go nowhere, I am wasting my time, because I could spend the time learning something of use or making my life better.  I could be working on what is most powerful: me.  I could avoid wasting my time by getting no effect (or very little) "out there".  See The Concentric Rings Of Importance - Placing The Stuff Of Life In Its Right Place and identifying that which is of concern:  My Circle Of Concern - Cleaning It Up And Cleaning It Out


Some people are like children who are distracted by any "shiny object" or anything that pops up.  They are a machine of randomity, often not being able to stick to any one task to get it done or concentrate on anything for very long.  They bounce off the walls, going every which way.  This used to be called "not paying attention" or lack of ability to focus or concentrate, where one is consumed with chaos of random events - a passive reactor to whatever comes up.  Of course, now they have a name for it: ADHD - attention deficit disorder, with a bonus of "hyperactivity".   This is the inability to focus on what is relevant - it is living in the irrelevant.  (See I Have ADHD And That Means....)

Of course, as related in the story that follows this piece, we often use distractions as a form of "relief" from the discomfort resulting from negative thoughts.  And it is much more appropriate to ask "what is going on with me now that I need relief?" and then write down the answer and go directly to solving the problem (changing the conversation or curing the situation).   Always using distraction for this purpose has a person constantly dealing with the symptoms over and over and over, rather than doing the work to cure the thinking problem in the first place (which typically takes alot less time than handling the symptoms over and over).  (See Cause And Effect.)


Basically, if one cannot do something of benefit to oneself and one is drawn into a distraction then what is being done is "irrelevant" to that person's benefit.

And if what that person is doing doesn't benefit anyone else (at least only minisculy), then it is irrelevant to the world.

Wise people spend their lives identifying what is likely to produce a better result and avidly guarding their use of time from being squandered in things that do not produce a high benefit. 


A note: Shoulds in life


So, the conversations goes like this: 

"You say you're so much interested in helping the world, but then you say that the oil spill in the gulf does not affect you at all, that it is irrelevant.  I just don't see how you can be so callous." 

Oops.  What is going on here?

There is a big "should" here.  It is natural, and it is derived from our "socialization" genes, where those people who were more interested in the group's welfare had their progeny survive better (if the group is together and protecting each other, children live longer and are later able to pass on those genes).  (See Evolution.)

So, this is programming based on our caveman days 10,000 years ago - and much of it is obsolete, not relevant to today, except that it may please other people if you do things like buying hybrid cars and express concern for people's problems.  So, there are some social considerations for having people like you and think you're ok.

But if you are wise enough to rise above that to higher levels of existence, you'll not spend time on such low payoff considerations and you'll go for bigger effects for your energy spent. 

(If we let society's beliefs and cultural run our lives to "fit in" or get self-approval or other's approval, then we are giving away our lives based on others' expectations of us.  This is similar to a child growing up to be an adult but trying to live out what the parents expected of him/her, even going into a profession that was not what that person would have really chosen for him/herself if he/she would have only "thought" about it using his/her higher brain.)

Sidenote: A tale...


I found that as a retired person I could spend several hours gathering great information from the Internet, forwarding it to my email account for later sorting and reading.  In truth, this was mostly a waste of time - and a nice comfortable thing to do.  But it left me with less time to do what was satisfying to me, which was to do writing of substance.  This information gathering was ineffective and, while not completely so, it was largely irrelevant to what was the most important.

Then there was popping into the iPad as a distraction before I took a nap so that I would be more chipper and productive.  Distractions tend to be "settling" and fill up time without much thought.  I used them "entertain" myself, which seemed preferable to taking a nap, which I was considering to be boring. 

When I was tired at night, I would watch TV or do something mindless, instead of doing whatever it took to get myself back into a higher functioning state, and not "blowing" the time - I could spend it somewhere else of more value (it's easy to beat TV's value, which is often a net negative).  [I cancelled my TV service.  What an  astounding difference that made!]

And then there was computer games, which are distracting from having to think about anything anxiety provoking plus which gave me a few (minor) dopamine hits, as it was a challenge but within my capability - essentially it was a fake form of "flow". 

("Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does."  When I say Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak of it, he added that it had to be for a positive effect of value, rather than just all involving, challenging but within one's ability. Video, TED, 18:56, Flow, The Secret To Happiness)

For a deeper look at the computer game story:  The Struggle With 'Comfort'/'Escape' Vs. Self-Control

Basically, I learned I had to ask the question "What do I need to be distracted from?"

To which the answer was, which I imagine is true for most people, was my statements to myself which created anxiety or something difficult to think about.  "This is so hard, this working on all of this synthesis stuff.  When will I ever complete it?  Can I really do this or is this a big waste of time?  Can I do a good enough job?"   Common "non-thinking" in terms of using my higher brain and letting the primitive brain cough up patterns related to anxiety thoughts. 

So, of course, I had to answer this (as I discovered in my massive reading and analysis over time).  "What you do is a good thing that can create some positive effects.  If you only help a few people that is good.  And you're learning so much that applies to you and having your life be better.  And, let's face it, there are alot of mistakes and failures and alot of learning needed on the way to being more effective.  Sure, you're not as efficient as you could theoretically be, but reality dictates that inefficiencies always occur on the learning curve - you don't know it until you know it!  All's well.  Just keep on going and you'll add more and more and we'll see how far it goes.  'Tis a good thing you do, Keith.  And you simply need to rest a bit so that you'll be in the zone for doing more good stuff!"  (Or it could be stated in "I" terms, of course, which, as I think about it is a better way to say it.  So I'll include the "I" version in my Reminders Notebook.

And, with that and my commitment, I went to doing a "straight line" to what I wanted to accomplish:

When I was to take a nap or go to sleep for the night, I just went and did it, with no distractions to waste time "on the way".  (And that felt a lot better.  Plus operating in "tired" is a highly inefficient way to exist.)

Resolved to limit myself to no more than 15 minutes in the morning to reading email notifications, so I had a clear objective rather than finishing "whenever" (i.e. no limit). 

Clearly stated the waste of computer games.  (See the story, linked above.)

I asked myself each time I felt tired or not fully present:  What would benefit me now?

And I took a nap instead of watching TV, clearly establishing that what was on TV was largely irrelevant and that I wasn't going to change the world from it.

I also felt much better about not being caught up in distractions (although they are human and not to be criticized) and especially in doing a lot more of what is satisfying to me. 

And...it wasn't "hard" to do.  I just needed to be clear.  And it ended up being easier and better... 

See also the notes on what I did...at the bottom of this piece.


Distractions and irrelevancies are in the domain of not "sifting the wheat from the chaff" and living on alot of chaff.  It is the opposite of effectively applying the 80/20 Principle to one's life, where in turn a person becomes so much more powerful and then is able to impact the world in a much stronger, more positive way. 

People who don't think about their time and its highest usefulness end up living as the victim of Parkinson's Law (The Great Sinkhole Of Life) - and perhaps living a life similar to The Gradually Boiling Frog.